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February 22, 2000


The Rediff Interview / Hansie Cronje

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'If there is something that every single player wants to have under his belt, it is a victory in India'

Hansie Cronje South Africa have spent quite some time assembling what would appear to be the supreme outfit in world cricket today, challenging the Australians for the pinnacle. And Hansie Cronje at the helm of it has an enviable record. Identified as a future leader at a young age, the 30-year-old was captain of Orange Free State at 21 and deputised for the injured Kepler Wessels in the national side at 24. A year later, he took over the South African captaincy, forming a formidable duo with coach Bob Woolmer that saw the Proteas attain dizzy heights.

Cronje -- a destructive batsman -- is not bothered with finesse and refinement, and lets the end justify the means. Likewise could be said of his captaincy. He is a motivational leader, inspiring the team with his own deeds. Innovation has been the hallmark of his captaincy and he has never been one to shy away from experimenting. 'Win at all cost and criticism be damned,' seems to be his motto.

Off the field, Cronje carries with him his usual blend of political correctness and media cajoling. The South African skipper spoke to Amir Abbasi during the course of his stay in Bombay.

Do you think playing India is one of the biggest challenges in front of your team?

Hansie Cronje I think playing India in India is certainly one of the toughest tours. There's talk that they will be easy this time around. India obviously were very disappointing in Australia. They missed the services, I think, of players like Ajay Jadeja and Mohammad Azharuddin. And, obviously, they will be back in contention again with Nayan Mongia as well. Young players are sometimes more effective at home, so we don't want to underestimate those guys. Having said that, our team is a pretty strong one at the moment; I think stronger than the one which toured India in 1996. We, then, did not have Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock, who have done very well in the last 20 months. I think Shaun Pollock is a terrific player and so is Kallis, and I think these are the two players who will make the difference.

Are you confident of winning the series?

Yes. We are very confident.

How much are you going to miss the services of someone like Jonty Rhodes, who is a good player of spin bowling?

Not only is he a good player of spin bowling but he is also a great fielder. But we have got some very good players who have been doing very well on the local circuit. I am sure they will be very keen to grab the opportunity.

You have come with three left arm spinners. Do you think you will be missing an offspinner?

I think we will be missing Paul Adams. He is a wrist spinner and he obviously can turn anything on any surface. He has also gained in confidence over the last two or three years and is bowling very well. So I think this is another opportunity for Clive Eksteen, who has been out of the team for four-five years now. He is a very experienced player; he has matured as a cricketer. He is a good captain and he thinks about the game very well.

Nicky Boje is a young bowler who has had opportunities. He toured here in 1996. He didn't play in the Test matches but he did well in the Titan Cup. It's good to see these players coming through. So we have got a very strong side.

You said this team is stronger than the one of 1996. Where do you think does this team score over that of 1996?

Hansie Cronje I think the all-round strength of this team is stronger than that of the '96 team. You have Shaun Pollock, Jacques Kallis and Lance Klusener as three good all-round players, and Mark Boucher as well. But I think the key to Test cricket is experience.We have got Gary Kirsten and Hershelle Gibbs who have had a strong partnership opening the innings. Kallis is at three and Cullinan, who has had a very good 24 months of Test cricket, at No.4; then you got myself; Jonty (Rhodes) is not in, so we have Peter Strydom and Hendrik Dippenaar vying for the No.6 spot; you got Klusener, Pollock and Boucher at 7, 8 and 9 - which is a formidable lower-order; and then your spinner plus Allan Donald, who is obviously very hungry for ten more wickets (to reach the 300-wicket mark in Test cricket).

What do you think went wrong on South Africa's last visit here?

I think what happened on the last tour is that we played some good cricket in Calcutta. But in Ahmedabad and Kanpur we played well for only one innings; we didn't play well in both innings. Hopefully, this time around we have learned our lessons and we will play well for two innings. Our last time around, we played some good cricket at times but didn't follow through.

Did you get any time at all to see the India-Australia series and study the Indian team?

In South Africa, the Australian matches start at about 4:00 in the morning. So we got to watch quiet a bit of it. We were able to keep one eye on the India-Australia series.

Do you believe South Africa have an edge considering India's poor performance in Australia?

I think our players are definitely a lot more confident coming here. We have had three months of very good, solid Test cricket. We lost the last Test against England simply because of the declaration. We are certainly very keen to play well. I think the Indian team is obviously very disappointed with their Australian tour. They would be very keen to make up. But we are also very keen to make sure we play some good cricket.

Talking about that agreement between you and Nasser Hussain to forfeit the first innings, what do you think of that decision now after all the contrasting views and opinions across the globe?

I think we made the right decision. It is right. The spectators had to sit in the ground and watch the rains for three days. So I thought it is only fair that they have an opportunity to see a good match.

Was there a lot of deliberations involved when arriving at the decision?

No. It was discussed for barely a minute just before the last day. We never discussed it in detail.

What do you have to stay about the Indian cricket team and how would you rate them?

As I said, we have just moved out of the England series and we had only one eye on them. So I can't really say too much about them (Indian cricket team) 100 per cent.

A Test has been traded for a One-Day International. How do you feel about that?

Hansie Cronje I don't really want to get into the administrative side. But as a cricketer, we would obviously like to play Test cricket. But we also enjoy the one-day game. So, I think it is very, very hard to find the correct balance nowadays. So we go by the Board. I think modern tours and itineraries are getting very tight and very tough, so it's a very tough job to find the correct solution. Obviously, it's nice to play a three-Test series or five-Test series because you want to get a result and you want to make sure every team has got an opportunity. But at the end of the day, what the administrators come up with, we have to accept.

What kind of pitches do you have to encounter this time around?

I think similar to what we had in '96. The Calcutta one was, we felt, a fantastic cricket wicket because it played fair to seamers and to the spinners too, and gave the batsmen opportunity to play. Kanpur and Ahmedabad was turning a little bit more. But, you know, I think we have learnt quite a lot over the last three to four years. And, as I said before, we are a lot stronger, a lot more confident.

There have been demands by experts for faster and bouncier pitches in India so that disasters like the one Down Under don't repeat. What do you think about it?

I think it's a difficult one because you obviously want to use home ground advantage. India has strokemakers like Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar and Azhar, and I would like to see them play well on any wicket. So I don't know what kind of wickets to expect. Hopefully, they are good cricket wickets which give good opportunities to both, seamers and spinners.

You have just one practice match before the first Test. Are you satisfied with that?

Well, I think one is enough. If the wicket is good, from the batsmen's point of view, you would want to make the most of it. But you don't want to drag tours too long at this time of the season for us. We obviously have had quiet a long summer already and we don't want it dragged out too much.

India is the only country of the subcontinent where South Africa has not won. So how crucial is this tour in that aspect?

Hansie Cronje I think if there is something that every single player wants to have under his belt, it is a victory in India. I don't know what the chances are because it's all going to depend on how well India can come back after the disappointment of Australia.

For the past two seasons, South African cricket has been marred by demands for racial equality and inclusion of more Black cricketers. Do you think such demands are justified?

I think if you look at this season, we had three players of colour playing on merit and all of them have performed very well. Herchelle Gibbs, Andrew Williams and Paul Adams. And we also have Makhaya Ntini. So there are four players who walk into the team on merit.

So are you saying that the players should be selected on merit and not on colour?

I think, as far as possible, the selections should be on merit. But there are are obviously times when you have to nurture and make players for the longer run.


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